Artists: Notes on Art Making

The historians and art-critics of the West had to acknowledge that "Indian art had fallen into undeserved neglect in the Victorian era, and a true appreciation of its spiritual meaning was due to the work of two pioneers, E. B. Havell and Ananda Coomaraswamy...The result was an artistic renais­sance in Bengal, the protagonists of which were Abanindra Nath Tagore and his bro­thers and a group of pupils like Asit Kumar Haldar and Nandalal Bose". (Vide "Indian Art" essays by H. G. Rawlinson, K. de B. Codrington, J. V. S. Wilkinson and John Irwin). As regards the apathy of the early European art-critics, Professor Wilkinson said: “The main reason for this is simply that Europe would not 'lift its heavy eyes and look' beyond its bord­ers.” Another reason for such misunderstanding he said: “was difficult for the European to see with Indian eyes without Indian guidance. Indian painting was accordingly under-estimated and misunderstood.”

Coomaraswamy and Havell were hardly understood by our Indian scholars of old generations and they never could take their work as authoritative versions. A few other men who took up their pen in India, were those who looked at it as a part of the national political awakening, and as such, found an opportunity to make a name for themselves by advocating renaissance in Bengal. They in fact looked at the outer fringe of Indian art and began writing on it in a grand eloquent and scholarly manner without much understanding of its inner meaning and ideology. This accounts for the utter negligence by our countrymen of the good work done by Abanindra Nath Tagore and his pupils for over a quarter of a century. We now notice that some of our modern artists (like the artists of the Early Victorian era) again began to brush aside the traditional art of India to achieve some­thing new by deliberately imitating Surrealist or Dada art of modern Europe. Tradition to these artists means imitation of the past, and intrinsic value of the past experiences lost all significance to them. When we praise 'Kalidasa' we should know how much he was indebted to 'Valmiki' to produce his epoch-making 'kavyas'. Indian art which continued for over two thousand years, up to the early 19th century in Cochin, Travancore and also subsequently thrived in the folk-art of Bengal up to the beginning of the 20th century, received a great blow and lost all its distinctive ideology and dignity in the hands of our so-called modern artists and art-critics. After Havell and Coomaraswamy, we have unfortunately got no one to throw light on the meaning and vitality of traditional art and possibilities of its adaptation to suit the modernist's outlook.

If we on the other hand trace the development of European art, she continued for a long time, (after Gothic or Byzantine period) developing realistic aspect of pictorial composition in a most scientific manner with multifarious Christian romantic conceptions. With the advent of photography and two successive wars, the ideology of European art, - painting and sculpture, underwent a revolutionary change. Former types of realistic art lost all its charm due to its scientific approach in all sphere of life's activities. Europe left its pure form of art of painting long ago in Gothic or Byzantine art. A modern European art-critic, Maurice Denis describing the ideology of some of the modern art of Europe unwittingly defined pure form of traditional Indian painting, and said: "a picture is a plane surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order." Indian art do not differ fundamentally, but only when he advocates that it should not convey any emotion, romanticism or traditional bias. According to another art-critic of the West, Claude Journot "the painters of Europe have tried new experiments, taken lessons from the East and from Africa, and turned towards the middle ages."

According to Indian conception, a painting chitra literally means a creation which evokes surprise (ascharyya). Therefore it never meant to be a photographic likeness of Nature. More­over to understand art of both Oriental and Occidental countries in their true perspective, we should know about their historical development and ideologies. Art developed along with the increase of interest in life and growth of culture. Art like religion, therefore can never be devoid of life's ambition, and as such, impossible to make it secular. Fundamental differences therefore lie in their respective approach. Secular and per­sonal art can only appeal to cliques, and like fashion can disappear, but a hieratic art unites a whole race in one spiritual foundation. In this respect what Hindu-Buddhist and Christian art did to Asia and Europe can be well ascertained through their continu­al achievements of several centuries. The inner significance of the religious form of Oriental art can be explained through their multifarious ex­amples. Hokusai, a great Oriental art­ist (of Japan), ex­plaining the function of an artist said that he must identi­fy himself with his subject which he paints in a spiritual sphere; and it should be an insult to credit him with observation: for to observe, implies a separation from that which is observed, It is likewise a taste of art, that it should enable the spectator to forget himself, and to become its object, as he does in dreams. But this method is not really a short one. "Only when" he said, "I was seventy-three, had I got some sort of insight into the real structure of Nature; at the age of eighty shall have advanced still further; at ninety, I shall grasp the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall be a marvel, and at a hundred and ten every blot and every line from my brush shall be alive." This mystic experience bears the ‘reality’-the Eternal Truth, which has been explained in Hindu-Buddhist philosophy. Oneness of things were felt in akasha-space, and in sristi-matter. Artist can feel oneness with the object he depicts in his work, provided he can understand the symbolism and ideology which framed the whole structure of our ancient Indian philosophy.

Indian artists never ventured to copy Nature realistically and therefore sometimes invented awe-inspiring symbols which a man could hardly visualise through his senses. In ‘Bhagvata Geeta’, the ‘Vishwa-rupa’ is an artistic conception of the ‘Virata-Purusha’ - the infinity, ever-expanding all permeating force,-the absolute and abstract truth. Symbols are concrete expressions, much easier to disseminate the spiritual value in human mind. The ceremonial symbols of puranic types were evolved to convey more meaning in a greater vividness within a simple structure. Indian Mythology with artistic-symbolism can claim much scope for concrete interpretation of human mind. Rossetti or Blake, however strong they may be in their allegorical conceptions, they had to invent artificial symbolism of their own to express respective mental images through paintings. But an Indian artist can express such allegorical meanings in their work provided he can utilise symbolisms after understanding them from common ritualistic objects, expressing multifarious aspects of manifestations of Divine Spirit. These symbolisms had sound meanings and' were understood by the man in the street; but due to our secular form of general education, and also for the unwillingness on the part of the orthodox priests to explain, their inner significance remained a closed chapter for us. Otherwise infinite variety of allegorical and abstract form of original paintings, with' the back-ground of high class scientific education of the artists were possible. If we have to live as a nation, we shall have to thrive just as other nations of the world with their respective cultural heritage are genuinely proud of their distinctive art tradition and its ideology; some of them are making experimental efforts to bring about a solution for a secular form of art. In all these diverse outlook of the Nations blossom variety of art-form, just as the variety of flowers of different lands thrive in their own particular soils. Such unity in diversity can be traced all over the world in music, painting, dancing, sculpture, architecture and also in their languages, physiognomical character and dresses. We all can tolerate and understand their value and respect them. Similarly our own distinctive culture which has got a great tradi­tional back-ground cannot be ignored.

In this way, Indian artists were rich in symbolical motifs in art and not isolated examples like, Blake, Rossetti and few others to evoke sym­bolical and spiri­tual meaning delibe­rately. Indian artists could therefore afford to be always vision­aries and mystics. The central abstract and spiritual aspect of all undifferentiated creatures of this earth have been defined by them through multi­farious symbolism. The central philoso­phical ideals found definite scope in visual art of this country. We can find this ideology of Indian art through the analysis of the inner spirit of human mind and its nature as described by the Ind­ian Sages. According to the Hindu religion, which primarily aimed at philosophy, the creative power of God Eternity is 'Maya' ultimately transformed itself into 'Kama' (desire) and 'Sankalpa' (determination), which are essential aspects of all human activities. 'Prakriti' (nature) consists of three distinctive forms of virtues: 'Gunas' and all human beings are subject to their influence; they remain active in the psychological sphere in 'Sattva'-purity; 'Raja'-activity and pas­sion; 'Tama'-apathy and darkness.

According to ‘Bhagvata Geeta’, ‘Sattva’, ‘Raja’ and ‘Tama’ are nature-born ‘gunas’ which bind fast in the human body, of which the ‘Sattva’ forms its stainlessness, luminous and healthy expression bound by attachment to wisdom. Whereas, ‘Raja’-having the nature of passion, is the source of attachment to the thirst for life, that binds the dweller of the body by the attachment to action; but ‘Tama’ born of unwisdom, deludes all dwellers of the body that bind by negligence, indolence and sloth. In other words, ‘Sattva’ attaches to bliss; ‘Raja’ to action; and ‘Tama’-having shrouded the wisdom, attached on the contrary to negligence. When the wisdom-light streams forth from all the gates of the body, then it may be known that 'Sattva' is increasing. Greed, outgoing energy undertaking of actions, restlessness, and desire, these are born of the increase of 'Raja'. Darkness, stagnation and negligence as well as delusion are born of the increase of 'tama-guna'. All artists and poets of our country observed these ideologies in classifying their art and literature. I had the good fortune of meeting last of the indigenous pat painters (folk artists) of Kalighat (Bengal), who used to classify their works in the same manner. All paintings depicting God and Goddesses were classed by them as work of 'Sattva-guna’. 'Raja-guna' type of paintings were generally birds, animals, fish or a lady in toilet etc.; and 'Tama' pictures were unhappy married couple beating each other, a demon devouring a woman and such other hideous scenes. If we analyse the art of Europe through our ideology, all typical Biblical paintings including 'Madonna' can be classed as 'Sattva-guna’ type of work; and all landscape and portraits as 'Rajas' and all ultra-modernist's experiments in art in Europe, which contained element of pride and destruction, can be classed as 'Tama' art. These reactionary art-forms obviously originated due to successive World wars.

We can now, according to Sanskrit Kavya-Alankar Shastra, clas­sify these elementary 'gunas' in nine different types of Rasas:

SATTAVA-GUNA essentially contains the following three Rasas (virtues): 1) 'Santa-rasa' (the quietestic) which brings peace and repose in mind with the philosophical outlook on life, 2) 'Karuna-rasa' (the pathetic) which evokes compassion through the death and calamity of the fellow-beings; 3) 'Vatsalya-rasa' (affection for all creatures).

RAJA-GUNA contains: 1) 'Vira-rasa' (the heroic expression and courage) with which people fight for their country, patriotism, charity and all other work containing ethical morals, 2) 'Sringara-rasa' or 'Adi-rasa' (the erotic) which evokes love in man and woman essential for biological reproduction; 3) 'Hasya-rasa' (pro­voking laughter and humour).

TAMA-GUNA: 1) 'Advuta-rasa' (surprising and unbalanced element in our mind. 2) 'Vivatsa-rasa' (the disgusting), 3) 'Bhayanak-rasa'-(the fearful expression). These three 'rasas' are all psychological unsophisticated and primitive expressions of a child or a cave-man. It contained anger, pride and destructive elements.

No artist therefore can escape from the above mentioned 'gunas' and 'bhavas' whether he prefers modernist ideology of Europe or Spiritual abstractness of Indian Art. Valmiki wrote about them in his epic Ramayana explaining the aim and object of his 'Kavya'.

We have had enough of Western influence in our modern art due to, long slavery and deliberate teaching of Occidental art in the Provincial Schools of Art by the British teachers recruited from the South Kensington School, London. We also felt the glamour of the realistic Western art and thought we shall be able to improve upon our own art, by following their examples. But just as the deeper feelings can only be reached by the expres­sion of one's own native idioms in speech, it is the same in art. Of course in our modern times of easy communications mutual influence need be lacking; but let it work out unconsciously and not by deliberate expedients of cosmopolitism, which is nothing but an artificial covering up of differences, instead of exposing them frankly and trying to understand what they really mean. If therefore we wish to find sincerely a fresh impetus in our modern art we should go to the fountain-head for its inspiration instead of intentionally borrowing for novelty's sake, modern Western art of Surrealist and Dada schools. We all know that the days of landscape and portraits are over. We shall have to re-discover our vision and such imagination which is absolutely necessary to cultivate painting, sculpture and architecture in our indigenous method. We know, on the other hand, the ultra-modernist art of Europe required very little training in technique and disciplined imagination. But, we must not escape from the great disciplined training of imagination and technique of our indigenous art which can govern equally the eyes mind and hands and also enhance the prestige of our country before the World.

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